It's difficult for young children to differentiate between fact and fiction after they have been exposed to religion, a new study in this month's issue of Cognitive Science says.
Researchers presented 66 5- and 6-year-old children from public and religious schools three types of stories — religious, fantastical, and realistic — to determine if they could identify fictional elements in the narratives.
The authors found that when presented with stories that included "ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention," children who had been exposed to religion were less able to differentiate the made-up elements, like talking animals, as fictional.
"The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children's differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories," the study concluded.
According to the Huffington Post:
By relating seemingly impossible religious events achieved through divine intervention (e.g., Jesus transforming water into wine) to fictional narratives, religious children would more heavily rely on religion to justify their false categorizations.
The researchers suggest that religious teaching and exposure to miracle-based stories give children a more common acceptance of the impossible, despite what's actually realistic.
About 83% of Americans are affiliated with a religion, and 86% said they believe in God, according to recent Gallup data. Additionally, 28% of Americans believe the Bible is God's words verbatim and should be interpreted literally.